Piers Sellers, climate scientist and former NASA astronaut, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Friday morning, reported The Telegraph. He was 61.
Piers was born in Crowborough, East Sussex and began his career in science in 1968 as a student at Cranbrook School, Kent, located in Cranbrook, England. In 1976, he graduated with honors from Edinburgh University, attaining a Bachelors degree in Ecological Science. By 1981, he had completed his Ph.D. from Leeds University, according to NASA.
After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2015, he penned a New York Times op-ed piece talking about how his work and what it meant to the environment. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke of Piers’ commitment in a statement on Friday.
“Piers devoted his life to saving the planet,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.
“His legacy will be one not only of urgency that the climate is warming but also of hope that we can yet improve humanity’s stewardship of this planet.”
Dr. Sellers leveraged his experience as an astronaut to work with Hollywood A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio – also an environmentalist – and director Fisher Stevens on the National Geographic documentary “Before the Flood,” which debuted earlier this year. Jon Kerry, former presidential candidate, also supported the project.
In a conversation with DiCaprio, he expressed that his desire to study the climate came from seeing the atmosphere around the planet Earth and thinking about how “fragile” it was, referring to it as a “tiny little onion skin,” the Associated Press said Friday.
Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, remembered his colleague.
“His curiosity and drive to uncover new knowledge was generously shared with audiences around the world, both from space and in wide travels to reach as many people as possible with an essential understanding of our fragile planet,” Bolden said in an interview with Spaceflight Insider.
Bolden continued to mourn Sellers.
“Today we lost a tremendous public servant who was dedicated to NASA, the nation and the world,” Bolden said at the end of his statement.
“He was a strident defender and eloquent spokesperson for our home planet, Earth. Spacewalker and scientist, free thinker and friend to our planet, and all who seek new knowledge, to say he will be missed would be a gross understatement.”
Former astronaut Nicole Stott also had this to say about the passing of her colleague.
“Saddened by the loss today of Piers Sellers – a wonderful friend and a champion for our planet,” former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott told SpaceFlight Insider.
“His dedication, optimism, spirit, and humor were inspirational and will be missed. We should all take his lead and do all we can to improve life here on Earth.”
Sellers makes the third climate scientist to pass away in 2016. In October, the New York Times reported that Gordon Hamilton plunged fell 100 feet to his death while studying glaciers in Antarctica. Ralph J. Cicerone, climate scientist and president emeritus of the National Academy of Sciences, passed away in November unexpectedly at his New Jersey home, according to Newsday.
Piers spoke with The Telegraph earlier this year when contemplating the past.
“When I was a kid, I watched the Apollo launches from across the ocean, and I thought NASA was the holy mountain,” Sellers said earlier this year when Bolden presented him with the Distinguished Service Medal, the agency’s highest honor.
“As soon as I could, I came over here to see if I could climb that mountain.”
The Distinguished Service Medal is NASA’s highest honor.
As his death comes two days before Christmas, it is unknown if Dr. Piers Sellers had friends or family close to him in his final hours.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]